All of us have albums that leave permanent impressions upon our musical minds and souls. Dream Theater’s masterpiece, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, is one of those albums for me.
I keenly remember when we bought our copy in 1999. I can recall how much the album affected my brother David and I, as we sat and listened to the album, from start to finish, in one sitting. I can only count a few times in my life, even as a voracious music consumer, that I’ve felt that same feeling of musical elation that we both felt after listening to Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. And as time went on, we only grew to love it more. In a family of certified music snobs with very different musical tastes, this album was maybe one of 4 albums that everyone in the family could agree on, and I’ve heard it from start to finish so many times that I have almost every note memorized. And we’re not the only people that felt that way- Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory is frequently included among the greatest modern prog albums, and is heralded as such by critics and fans alike.
So you can imagine our excitement when we saw that Dream Theater would be playing Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, one of our favorite albums, live in concert, all the way through. We had to go. My brother David joined me on a trip to the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati to see one of our favorite albums ever performed live.
You could sense the excitement in the room before the concert. And in a quick survey of the audience, it was impressive to see the demographic range among the audience members. There were older individuals, men and women, that looked like seasoned prog fans, there were people in their 30s (that probably heard Dream Theater in their teens like we had), and there were even children and young teenagers there with friends and parents. I was surprised that the audience was so full, and that there was such diversity of age. And as a kid that grew up feeling like I was the only prog fan in my town, seeing a room full of so many fans was really special.
After a brief video presentation, the band took the stage to rapturous applause. The first set was primarily comprised of more recent songs, with several selections from Dream Theater’s latest album, Distance over Time. Opener “Untethered Angel” kicked off an incredible first set. It definitely was a blast to see some of the world’s finest musicians play these incredibly complex songs live, and to feel the energy and see the excitement that inevitably flows out as these 5 men perform. One of the more tender moments from this concert: John Petrucci noticed a young father and his adolescent daughter in the front row, and at one point, played a solo their way, directly to them. He threw up the horns after his solo, and the young girl responded in kind. They closed their first set with Distance over Time‘s final track “Pale Blue Dot”, and then broke for an intermission.
Following the intermission, a short video set the stage for the rest of the evening, as an animation of the hypnotherapist’s watch kicked off “Regression”. And as soon as the band launched into “Overture 1928”, the entire room erupted with applause. Around me were children, teenagers, young adults, and middle aged men and women, and they were all banging their heads in odd time and playing air instruments. The term “collective effervescence” came to mind, as the crowd sang along to each part and bobbed their heads to odd time changes., all to the backdrop of newly illustrated animations that told the story of Nicholas, investigating his own consciousness and his past lives to find out more about a murder that had happened decades ago.
The album was performed with laser-like accuracy, and it’d be hard to point out our favorite moments, because every song on the album runs together, but crowd favorites would likely be “Overture 1928”, “Fatal Tragedy”, “Dance of Eternity”, and an inspiring participatory rendition of “The Spirit Carries On”.
Though I knew I would be excited, I wasn’t expecting to be surprised in the second set, but Dream Theater managed to inject some freshness into their set to throw us some curve balls. For example, in the ballad “Through Her Eyes”, Dream Theater included an animation of main character Nicholas walking through a graveyard. The gravestones were labeled with last names of important figures in rock and prog history, like Squire, Emerson, Bowie, and so on. Seeing those names and thinking about how their influences endure was extremely touching.
In “Finally Free”, we were all expecting Portnoy’s fills at the end, but Mike Mangini threw the audience a curveball by playing extremely polyrhythmic fills that kept the rest of the band on their toes. It was a lot of fun to see Mangini launch into Pat Mastelloto-esque stilted meter, and see the joyful smiles of the rest of the band as they kept time. After a brief pause, Dream Theater ended the night with “At Wit’s End” from their latest album.
I’ve seen Dream Theater a few times now, having been a fan of the band for over 20 years, but this show was the most special for me. The band played predictably well, but being able to experience this incredible, and in our case, formative album live was a powerful experience. I’m so glad I was able to see it with my brother, who has loved this album for exactly as long as I have, and was the first person to enjoy it with me 20 years ago.
However, I think as much as we were all there to celebrate Dream Theater’s seminal record, the band was there to do the same. James LaBrie, a few songs into the second set, mentioned that this album was a monumental step forward for them. He talked about the special moment when they first heard the masters and said, “We think people are really, really gonna like this.” Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory is an album that has stood the test of time, and we all were reminded of its timelessness on Tuesday night.
It’s incredible to consider how much has changed in the world since October 1999 when this album was released, but being able to celebrate this amazing album, with fans old and new, was one of my favorite concert experiences of the last few years.
Dream Theater is preparing to embark on a world tour, beginning in South America and then heading over to Europe in early 2020. Catch them live if you can! See if they’re coming you’re way on their website.
- Untethered Angel
- A Nightmare to Remember
- Barstool Warrior
- In the Presence of Enemies, Part I
- Pale Blue Dot
ACT 2: Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From A Memory
- Overture 1928
- Strange Déjà Vu
- Through My Words
- Fatal Tragedy
- Beyond This Life
- Through Her Eyes
- The Dance of Eternity
- One Last Time
- The Spirit Carries On
- Finally Free
- At Wit’s End